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March 5, 2021

Nurses welcome review following Lismore Hospital death

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The NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association (NSWNMA) has welcomed reports the NSW Government has commissioned a independent review into seclusion, restraint and observations in the state’s mental health system.

The review follows the 2014 death of patient Miriam Merten at the Lismore Base Hospital’s mental health unit.

A six-person panel will determine whether the NSW mental health system is consistent with national standards and international best practice.

NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard says ‘no stone will be left unturned’ by NSW Chief Psychiatrist Murray Wright and the five other mental health experts.

‘We need to know appropriate policies are in place in our hospitals and mental health facilities and the extent to which staff actually adhere to existing policies and protocol,’ Mr Hazzard said in a statement on Monday.

Nurses have called on the review to seriously consider to skill mix, staffing ratios, and whether appropriate training and supervision is being provided.

General Secretary of the NSWNMA, Brett Holmes, said it was vital the review panel took a close look at staffing skill mixes and overall staffing levels when considering issues of aggression and violence that lead to restraint and seclusion in emergency departments and mental health units.

‘The skill mix of staff is a critical component in seclusion, restraint and observation practices throughout public mental health facilities and hospitals across NSW,’ Mr Holmes said.

‘We will certainly be requesting the review panel to pay close attention to skill mix, as well as staffing ratios, and whether appropriate training and supervision has been provided across all settings.

‘At the end of the day, the safety of staff and patients has to be given priority because of the potential risks and known levels of violence occurring in both mental health units and emergency departments.

‘The use of “specialling” or 1:1 nursing is one element to help reduce escalation issues for patients in mental health units however, we are concerned that staff assigned as ‘specials’ during a shift are often lower skilled and therefore inadequately prepared for the role of deescalating aggressive or self-harming patients and are vulnerable themselves.

‘The broad terms of reference means the review panel will be extremely busy for the next seven months and I welcome the opportunity for our members to contribute to this review,’ said Mr Holmes.

– with AAP

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